German engineering giant Siemens announced Wednesday that 46-year-old Klaus Kleinfeld would take over as chief executive officer next year when current head Heinrich Pierer steps down. "Siemens is passing on the baton to young leaders," the company, that hires 417,000 employees worldwide, said in a statement. Kleinfeld, who was appointed to the top rung of the company -- the central supervisory board -- only last year, had so far successfully headed Siemens' business in the United States. The decision comes as a surprise because so far there had been talk of extending Pierer's term by a year or two. The 63-year-old Pierer will move to the supervisory board where he will be chairman.